Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of Lenten reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. To read an introduction to the series, click here.
Love's Ultimate Challenge!
In the final part of this collection of teachings, Jesus will share his most challenging requirements for Christian living. Here Jesus is addressing not only the issue of morality and righteousness but the very health of the human spirit. In this particular case, Jesus seems to toss aside as inadequate the minimal requirements of the old law, which asks that we simply limit retaliation (an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth), and replaces it with the radical notion of no retaliation at all—indeed that we even love our enemies.
In his argument, Jesus makes a pragmatic observation. He suggests that if we believe we should be commended for loving those who love us, we are surely mistaken. In reciprocating love to those who love us we have not thereby distinguished ourselves from others. To love those who love us is both natural and self-serving. Loving our enemies is a much more radical behavior.
When I was still in seminary, I met a wonderful member of the church while serving as youth director. She had such a graciousness about her—a beautiful smile, a contagious warmth. It seemed obvious to me that she was a good person, and good from the inside out. I soon heard a story about her that proved my assessment to be true. Many years earlier her husband had been killed by a drunken driver. When Mrs. Presson arrived at the hospital, her husband had already been pronounced dead. After learning the story of her husband's death and discovering that the man who was responsible for the accident was recovering there, she went straight to his room. As she stood before him she shared not venom, but a healing balm. She told the man she wished him no harm and that she forgave him for what he had done to her husband to her. I do not know if later she struggled with feelings of anger and ill will toward the man—I know I would—but her physical act of approaching her enemy and speaking words of grace rather than malice must have come from a loving and caring heart. When I met her years later she was not a woman wrapped in self-pity or curdled with inner rage, but one who loved life and the people around her. The words of Jesus are not only ethical and true. They are indeed life-saving.
Jesus' commandment to love our enemies, however, seems to most of us an almost impossible task. If that were not enough, Jesus raises the standard of goodness to an even higher level, one surely beyond our reach. Jesus entreats us: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus has now gone well beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees. He asks that that we are to love not as mere mortals but as God loves. He asks that we love our enemies because this is how God acts.
Many of us remember Jesus' words on the cross as he was surrounded by his enemies. The crucified one prays, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." As followers of the Christ, we are asked to do no less, to forgive those who bring us harm. Only then can we hope to know true goodness, goodness not unlike the love of God for the world.
- As a Christian are you willing to strive to love your enemies? Are you succeeding?
- Does your forgiveness of others come quickly as with the lady who forgave the drunken driver, or does it come only gradually and after much prayer?
- Is the act of forgiveness not only morally right but also life-saving to the one who forgives?
For all of the articles in this series, refer to Pastor Tull's author page.